Entry Requirements – October 6 2013, Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph, Nanadan

Best way to save time as a teacher is to sort the students out first rather than invest years only to have them leave later.

My particular requirement seems to work well for us, we require that students show up whenever they can/want. Seems to keep the numbers down quite nicely. We don’t have any particular requirements beyond that, don’t need them since we don’t charge for the classes. Sometimes I put up posters and hand out flyers.

The beauty of the method is in it’s simplicity. If someone can’t be bothered to check out a free class that has no restrictions on joining, they certainly aren’t going to stay.

The ease with which students can join the class keeps them away since the perceived value of something is directly related to its cost. If I were to charge big money or have elaborate entry requirements, or be difficult to find, I’d likely attract a lot more kids looking for Mr. Miyagi. The method screens out the guys who want the “secrets of the samurai”. I can’t be any good as an instructor if I don’t have special restrictions that they must meet, and the class can’t be very special if anyone can join, so we don’t attract the ones who want to be part of an elite club. There are lots of clubs nearby who cater to all that secret society stuff so they get the romantics, all that’s left for us is folks who have a genuine interest in the art itself.

It really does keep the wannabe’s away, the guys who email more than once and ask anything other than “when’s the class and how much” do not exhibit any further interest once they understand that it’s easy to get accepted into class. It’s not what they expect, it’s not what they want, it puts all the decision making power on them. They can’t say “oh I HAVE to go to class or I’ll be booted out” which is a lot easier than “I have other things to do, and I don’t really have to go to class so maybe I’ll stay home”. Even “I paid for the class so I’d better go” is a crutch we don’t provide.

Honestly, the requirements are tough. Few come and most disappear. Only the self-starters show up and the students who stay are even more self-motivated these days since I’ve noticed I have started to be “the anti-sensei”. If a new student seems super-serious and wants the military discipline thing I seem to get even more lax than usual just to see if they are paying attention to the instruction instead of the orders. I’m actually a bit concerned about this, after all, a little discipline is not a bad thing. But one of my students did point out that the stand at attention types tend to wander, the eyes glazing over as they wait for the next command while I’m trying to explain something a bit more complex than “this foot there”.

In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter that we have such strict standards since we have students who travel several hours to class, and a couple have been doing so for years. As to who stays, one thing I’ve noticed is that those who show up in class saying “I dunno, I’m in town and saw the sign so thought I’d come out and see what’s happening” stay a lot longer than the ones who email me 15 times asking if there’s any special requirements and whether or not I’m “legitimate”.

So, why would any sensei want to keep students out of the dojo? Why not have lots of new folks coming through and trying out the art, wouldn’t that be the best way to grow the art? Perhaps, but I would encourage you to think about class from sensei’s point of view.

30 years of practice. Sensei shows up for each and every class. Students show up when it suits them for a couple of months then drift out again? As I said, we don’t charge for classes, so there’s no particular monetary incentive on my part to get the numbers up. If there are a lot of beginners we’re spending most of the time looking at which foot goes where and the seniors don’t get pushed on to the good stuff. How is that growing the art? Better to have few students who will stay with it for years, either with me or with another sensei in the art. (We’re a University club so students move on).

Which brings up one more point, We don’t make it easy to stay in the class, beginners join at any time and jump in wherever we are. We don’t have beginner classes and I rarely take time out to show them the basics. They are warned that they’re being “thrown into the deep end of the pool” and told to swim as best they can. This goes against all the rules of proper education but in the end it doesn’t really matter, I’ve tried the beginner class thing and had no better retention rates so I just teach the seniors and they help the beginners with the basics when I’m not looking.

Cheeky beggers, they don’t realize that all I ever teach are the basics.

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